ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- The Tampa Bay Rays reached another milestone in their unexpected run toward the playoffs.
Edwin Jackson took a shutout into the eighth inning, Cliff Floyd and Willy Aybar each homered, and the Rays beat the Toronto Blue Jays 3-2 on Thursday night to guarantee they will finish no worse than .500 for the first time in franchise history."Hopefully getting past these barriers, mentally and numbers-wise, we can put that in the past and become the organization we're envisioned on becoming," Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon said.Tampa Bay, 81-51 and an AL-best 49-19 at home, took two of three from Toronto and is 11-0-1 in series play since the All-Star break. The Rays extended their lead in the AL East over Boston to 4 1/2 games. The Red Sox lost 3-2 to the New York Yankees."It's just another day at the office," Floyd said. "Everyday, someone's doing something to win a ballgame."Jackson (11-8) gave up one run and six hits over seven-plus innings in winning for the sixth time in his last seven starts. He departed after allowing Alex Rios' double to start the eighth."Every game we take now is a big one," Jackson said.Rios scored on Adam Lind's infield single and Rod Barajas added a two-out RBI double later in the eighth, cutting the Toronto deficit to 3-2. Jose Bautista, mired in an 0-for-24 slide, struck out to end the inning.Dan Wheeler pitched the ninth for his 10th save in 12 opportunities."I think you have to give those guys some credit over there," Toronto manager Cito Gaston said. "They've got a pretty good pitching staff that will shut you down."Floyd put Tampa Bay up 2-0 with a first-inning sacrifice fly and a solo homer in the third.Tampa Bay extended the lead when Aybar homered off Jesse Litsch (9-8) in the sixth. Aybar, who entered in an 1-for-16 slide, had three hits in four at-bats.Litsch allowed three runs and 10 hits in 6 2/3 innings. He had a 13-inning scoreless streak end in the first."I made a couple of mistake pitches and they hit them over the fence," said Litsch, who was a Rays' bat boy in 2002-03.Toronto had at least one baserunner in each of the first six innings, but failed to score.Thursday's announced attendance was 14,039, making it the sixth consecutive Rays' home game with a turnout under 20,000. Wednesday's crowd was 12,678."I'm really proud of the fact that we've really raised the level of our intensity despite only having 12,000 people in the stands," Maddon said before the game. "They've been very professional about this. That's the part I really appreciate about it also. You'd like to see 36,000 every night, but for right now, the way our guys are going about our business, I'm very proud of them."
Toronto designated DH-OF Matt Stairs for assignment after the game and purchased the contract of OF Travis Snider from Triple-A Syracuse. Stairs expects to be traded to be traded to a "contender" by Saturday. ... Rays closer Troy Percival (right knee) threw 39 pitches in batting practice and could be activated from the 15-day disabled list by early next week. ... Blue Jays 3B Scott Rolen (left shoulder) is expected to be back in the starting lineup Friday. ... Tampa Bay C Dioner Navarro (hamstrings) was out of the lineup for the second straight game and might return Saturday. ... Rays 3B Evan Longoria (right wrist) has started a throwing program and hopes to return next week.